Viktor E. Frankl


Viktor Emile Frankl was born in a room on the top floor of number 6 Czernin Street, in Vienna’s second district on March 26th 1905. He was a child with both rational and deep emotions, a combination he attributes to the mix he inherited from his father and mother (Frankl, 2000, P. 22)[i]. His Father was born in Southern Moravia (Frankl, 2000, p. 45)[ii] the same Austrian empire as the birth place of Edmund Husserl[1] founder of the school in phenomenology, a school that was to influence Frankl enormously in his later years although more through the work of Max Scheller and his profound phenomenological analysis of the valuing process (Frankl, 1970, p.57)[iii].

He was a loyal and dedicated man of humility and compassion who was goal orientated and resilient. He had a good sense of humor and loved jokes (Frankl, 2000, p. 38)[iv]. He was Professor of Neurology at the University of Vienna medical school and chief for 25 years of the neurology department of the Policlinic Hospital, Vienna. polikl_13He was also Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vienna medical school, Lecturer at the University of Vienna and guest lecturer at universities around the world.

He was Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Vienna, President of the Austrian Medical society of Psychotherapy and visiting professor at Harvard in 1961, Southern Methodist University Dallas in 1966, Stanford and Duquesne University Pittsburgh 1972 and the United States International University, San Diego, California in 1970, where he was Chair in Logotherapy. He had honorary Doctoral degrees conferred by 28 Universities (Loyola University Chicago, Edgecliff College and Rockford College).

He received the American Psychiatric Association’s Oskar Pfister Award and Lifetime achievement award of the foundation for hospice and home care and was an honorary member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, one of only 18 members.

downloadHe was a popular writer[2] and existentialist psychologist as he also addressed the existential themes of human freedom, responsibility, values, spirituality and death (Frankl, 2004, p. ix)[v] . The Unites states library contributed to this popularity by listing Mans Search for Meaning as “one of the ten most influential books in America” (Frankl, 2000, p. 143)[vi].

Viktor Frankl was also the survivor of four Nazi concentration camps in between 1942-1945[vii] [3]. They were Auschwitz and Dachau, Kaufering a sub camp of Dachau, Theresienstadt a ghetto north of Prague.

115642-004-94A28345This is particularly relevant as we start to understand Frankl’s concept of man and philosophy of life as his camp experiences empirically validated his thoughts about the importance of the humanness of man being preserved in a given philosophy and theory, “as the human quality of a human being is often disregarded and neglected for example by those psychologists who adhere to either the machine model or the rat model as Gordon W. Allport termed them (Frankl, 1970, p. 16)[viii]. This humanness of man was experienced by Frankl, in extraordinary ways throughout camp life. As professor in two fields of neurology and psychiatry he was very aware that man is a finite being conditioned and determined by biological, psychological and sociological factors.

But as was born out in many of these experiences in the camps, was “the unexpected extent to which man, is and always remains, capable of resisting and braving even the worst conditions. To detach oneself from even the worst conditions is a uniquely human capability”. (Frankl, 1970, p. 16)[ix]. Not only did this manifest itself in heroism[4] but also in humor another uniquely human capacity of self-detachment (Frankl, 1970, p.17)[x].

adolf_hitlerThese outstanding qualifications, human qualities and characteristics with a gifted neutral attitude, are exemplified by Frankl’s suggestion that he would “prefer to live in a world in which man has the right to make choices, even if they are wrong choices, rather than in a world in which no choice at all is left to him. In other words, I prefer a world in which on the one hand, a phenomenon such as Adolf Hitler can occur and on the other hand phenomena such as the many saints that have lived can occur also” (Frankl, 1967, p. 24)[xi].

To understand who Frankl was is also to understand the manner in which he worked and not just what he did or the means by which he did it. He was a perfectionist who did not always meet his own demands and confessed that he did not always hold to his principles (Frankl, 2000, p. 34)[xii]. But whenever he did, he saw it as the key to his success. The manner in which he worked can be summarized in three principles. Firstly, he made it a principal to “give the smallest things the same attention as the biggest and to do the biggest as calmly as the smallest”.

Secondly when asked to make remarks in a discussion he would “think them out and make some notes, similarly when addressing a large audience of several thousand people he would prepare thoughts “meticulously and rely on my notes” before trying to speak with the “same composure as when I commented before to a handful of people”.

He did not procrastinate and tried to do everything “as soon as possible and not at the last moment”. This ensured that when he was busy he did not face the added “pressure of knowing that something is still to be done”.

The third principal that guided the manner in which he worked was by doing the unpleasant tasks first “I do the unpleasant task before I do the pleasant ones” (Frankl, 2000, p.34)[xiii].

These principles can be seen as a signpost to the manner in which people can go about their work on projects. Pro choice and respect for the other persons prerogative to get it wrong, choosing an open and neutral attitude from the start. Setting a goal and keeping the bar high throughout striving for completion. Attention to detail and reason based communication and control for results & creativity, not for financial measurement. Conscientious planning and preparation with continuous documentation for reference with composure and focus, action orientated to maximize time allocation and prioritization.

In summary, the manner of Frankl’s work, the way in which he went about his work integrates compatibly with the planning, control and people aspects of project management, so to move in to the history of logotherapy and existential analysis will illuminate the relevance of this link even further.

[1] Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl born April 8, 1859 – April 27, 1938 was a German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology.

[2] Cited in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey 1989) and written 32 books in 24 translations although mans search for meaning selling over 9 million copies brands him as ‘popular’.

[3] Before Frankl and his first wife Tilly are arrested the Nazis forced the young couple to have their child aborted. His book the unheard cry for meaning is dedicated to this unborn child “To Harry or Marion an unborn child” (Frankl, 2000, p. 87 & Frankl, 1978, p.5) Frankl, Viktor. The Unheard Cry for Meaning.USA, Simon & Schuster, 1978. In September 1944 Viktor and Tilly Frankl are arrested and together with his parents are deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto, north of Prague. His sister Stella has shortly before escaped to Australia, and brother Walter and his wife are trying to escape via Italy. After half a year in Theresienstadt his father dies of exhaustion. Frankl and Tilly, and shortly later his 65 year old mother, are transported to the extinction camp Auschwitz. His mother is immediately murdered in the gas chamber, and Tilly is moved to Bergen-Belsen, where she is to die at the age of 24. In cattle cars Viktor Frankl is transported, via Vienna, to Kaufering and Türkheim (subsidiary camps of Dachau). Even under the extreme conditions of the camps Frankl finds his theses about fate and freedom corroborated. In the last camp he comes down with typhoid fever. To avoid fatal collapse during the nights he keeps himself awake by reconstructing his book manuscript on slips of paper stolen from the camp office. On April 27 the camp is liberated by U.S. troops. In August Frankl, returns to Vienna, where he learns, within a span of a few days, about the death of his wife, his mother and his brother who has been murdered in Auschwitz together with his wife.

[4] Heroism was observed on many occasions by Viktor Frankl, throughout his years of incarceration. He quotes movingly “It is true that if there was anything to uphold man in such an extreme situation as Auschwitz and Dachau, it was the awareness that life has a meaning to be fulfilled, albeit in the future. But meaning and purpose were only a necessary condition of survival not a sufficient condition. Millions had to die in spite of their vision of meaning and purpose. Their belief could not save their lives, but it did enable them to meet death with their heads held high. I therefore deemed it appropriate to pay tribute to them on the occasion of the inauguration of the Frankl library and memorabilia at the graduate theological union in Berkely California, when I presented the custodian with a donation: a sample of soil and ashes I had brought with me from Auschwitz. “It is to commemorate” I said, “those who lived there as heroes and died there as martyrs. Uncounted examples of such heroism and martyrdom bear witness to the uniquely human potential to find and fulfil meaning even ‘in extremis’ and ‘in ultimus’ – in an extreme life situation such as Auschwitz and even in the face of one’s death in a gas chamber. May from unimaginable suffering spring forth a growing awareness of life’s unconditional meaningfulness” (Frankl, 1978, p.45) The Unheard Cry for Meaning.

[i] Frankl, Viktor. Recollections. USA, Basic Books, 2000.

[ii] Frankl, Viktor. Recollections. USA, Basic Books, 2000.

[iii] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970.

[iv] Frankl, Viktor. Recollections. USA, Basic Books, 2000

[v] Frankl, Viktor. On the Theory and Therapy of mental Disorders. UK, Brunner-Routledge, 2004

[vi] Frankl, Viktor. Recollections. USA, Basic Books, 2000.


[viii] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970.

[ix] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970

[x] Frankl, Viktor. The Will to Meaning. USA, Penguin Books, 1970

[xi] Frankl, Viktor. Psychotherapy & Existentialism. USA, Penguin Books, 1967

[xii] Frankl, Viktor. Recollections. USA, Basic Books, 2000.

[xiii] Frankl, Viktor. Recollections. USA, Basic Books, 2000.